Much of the Diocese of York is rural and so for many of us starting an NWC has to be shaped by that context and be appropriate for communities in the countryside. Edited from interviews, these are two accounts of pioneering in rural areas.
First, Joe Kinsella, Rector of the Benefice of Buckrose Carrs, recently shared with Ben about his experience of growing ‘Rillo@4’ in Rillington, a fresh expression of church in a village in North Yorkshire.
Second, Ben caught up with Chris Wingfield, Rector of the Benefice of Harton, who started ‘Spa Church’ - another innovative way of reaching younger adults in rural areas.
Pioneering in a Rural Area and Rillo@4
Joe: That sense that God is finished in rural areas is a complete load of rubbish. There are real challenges and it is not easy at all and some churches are really up against the wall but God’s right here, doing stuff, still ministering and still calling people.
Ben: If there is some who is thinking about their village context or a similar kind of situation, what would be your rallying call to them?
Joe: The first thing is that they are not alone, 75% of the Diocese is rural, the majority of us in the Diocese are in rural places, the majority of us are facing those kind of issues. It is not a competition between urban and rural, it is just a recognition that a lot of people who go to the churches who are feeling perhaps up against it a bit…you are not alone in feeling that. God has put you there for a reason, just because you are in a small village doesn’t mean there’s any less need for witnessing, or trying things or really bringing the presence of God into those places. Doesn’t matter whether it is 400 people, 4000 people or 4 people, the need is the same.
Be encouraged that though you feel like you are a lone voice in a wilderness but…God often uses one or two people to make a big change.
And that call is absolutely seen in rural ministry. and in some ways rural ministry is absolutely rich in those relationships where you can express the love of God and talk to people about the love of God because it is not the same as in a urban place where you won’t know the people in the next street, you know so many people. You will see them again tomorrow, you will journey through life with them in a very close proximity, you will go to their funerals, you will go to their weddings, you will go to their baptisms, your kids will go to the same schools, you will play football with them. It means that you can have a real impact. God can have a use and purpose for you. God is not finished with rural ministry. There is still a life there.
Ben: How have you seen that?
Joe: It has been very difficult and seen a lot of failure. We have been here 6 years. There has been a lot of trying things, trying to break new ground in things and there has been a lot that just hasn’t worked. So it has taken a long time to get to where we are, and some of that has meant making very difficult decisions. The first thing we tried is doing children and families work in every single church. And we did for a bit and it just didn’t work.
Trying all these different things we came to the realisation that our role was not to serve the church but to serve the community through the church. So what, looking at our villages and local communities, how can the church serve them. From there community cafes started…we started a toddler group, lots of different events…duck races, a bit of messy church, anything that brought the community back together. And we started to build relationships.
The penny dropped for me: I’m not here to build numbers I’m here to build relationships.
So something went from ‘I want my church to be 1000s’ to ‘I want to know 10 people but I want to know them really well’. I want to journey with them and build that relationship.
So how do we that? We stopped trying to do everything in every church, and went okay, we need absolute consistency: same time, same place every week and we will build relationships with whoever comes to that.
And that’s where Rillo@4 came from.
Right, we’ve got a church hall which is not used a great deal, 4’oclock on a Sunday afternoon, week in week out we will meet regardless. We will do a bit of light church stuff and we will do a meal together and that will do. What we have seen by doing that is a lot of people come to it. A lot of families coming along. The major thing: building relationships with people. The vast majority of which have no link to church whatsoever. And that just been an extraordinary journey. What that has meant has been it goes from just doing church with people to you actually become a big part in their life and they become a big part in your life.
This week is kind of the culmination of that. There is a couple that we know that have a couple of young kids. They probably wouldn’t tell you that they were Christians but they come to church more than anyone I’ve ever met. They come week in week out. And this week they get married and I’m doing the service for them, and they also want to get their kids baptised. So we’re baptising them. And they’ve asked Suzy and I to be their Godparents. The journey that we’ve been on with that couple who have no church background and here they are wanting to get married in church, and they are wanting a vicar and his wife to be their Godparents to their kids. It is not the reason that we did it - we are just good mates - but that is lifelong impact, that they are now journeying alongside people following Christ. That’s the importance of the thing. Forget about numbers, it is journeying with a few and building those relationships.
Rillo@4 has been key - be there, week in week out, build your community. Don’t worry about how many people are coming.
Spa Church in a Rural Context
Chris: When I was in Suffolk I worked a lot of work in rural ministry. There is a great sense of tradition there, as there is in rural Yorkshire – festivals that celebrate or remember like Harvest, Carols, Easter, Christmas, Remembrance and All Souls. These were huge gatherings, full of liturgy and hymns, with great fellowship and story telling – very seasonal with churches full of people. But alongside this, there was the growing desire for something that wasn’t ‘traditional’ - something that would sit alongside these Celebrations, but had a more reflective, personal feel: something where it wasn’t just for the gathered community, but for the individual – something personal. We experimented with a few ideas but it wasn’t ‘til I arrived in Yorkshire that Spa Church came about.
Ben: So how did Spa Church come about?
Chris: One thing I used in Suffolk was something I called Chi Rho. It was a contemplative, sensory type of Church where we used background music, incense, a bible passage and meditation. We would read, visualise, then mediate on Bible scenes and immerse ourselves in them. By imagining ourselves as being actually ‘there’ was quite an intense and powerful experience for some people. I wanted to take that one step further here in Yorkshire and flicking through a magazine in a Dentist’s waiting room I saw Spa treatments being advertised – and that’s what got me thinking: can this very personal experience be tailored to be part of Church?
A lot of people actually like going to Spas: having a treatment, having a facial, exfoliation, moisturising, having a massage - a multi-sensory experience. And I thought – why can’t we be multisensory in our Churches?
How can we do multi-sensory worship?
And that’s where the idea of Spa church started.
Ben: What does it actually look like?
Chris: It involves all 5 senses. There is a sense of sight - it could be with an icon, a picture, a jug of water – something that focuses the eyes. I often use a painting I have of two open hands, but it could be anything, so long as it sets the scene. That will be a visual part.
Then for that sense of smell I use jossticks in the church. You can use incense from an incense burner but I use jossticks. I put three in each piece of oasis and light them half an hour before we start and put them on the window sills – so that’s the sense of smell
And then there is the sense of hearing. Each Spa church has its own ‘room’ - this is essentially a playlist of 5 songs. This can be Taizé, Classical, Spiritual, Celtic, Gregorian Chant, Contemporary, Chill Out, Acoustic, Unplugged, A Capella …in fact anything you want! Anything that will suit that particular Spa treatment room. Folk, country and western, pan pipes – whatever you feel is appropriate. So long as you have a playlist, you have a Spa room!
Then there is that sense of taste. I always think when we open the bible and we hear the words on a Sunday, it sounds so dry sometimes…(but) the taste of the Word of God is sweet.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! - Ps 119:103
So we give people Lindt Lindor chocolates or grapes to eat whilst they are listening to scripture. Then they can associate ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps 34:8) The Bible is a bit like a sweet with a wrapper. If you leave the sweet with the wrapper on you are not tasting it. You’ve got to bite into it and chew it.
The last bit of all is the sense of touch – a massage! We don’t actually massage anybody, but I will anoint peoples palms with the oil of Chrism. To me, this anointing is critical, as it blesses and affirms people in an intimate, personal way. I usually say something about the hands being the ‘hands of those who help build the kingdom of God’, but sometimes I use other forms of blessing.
So there you have it – sight, smell hearing, taste and touch.
Ben: Did it come from mindfulness and meditation?
Chris: Very much so. As I said it had it’s roots in Chi Rho, which was very meditative, but has grown into something more experiential in the present, using all our senses. It was really important that I used a very liturgical way of doing this that you could recognise straight away. When people go to a proper Spa treatment, there is the preparation and calming, the candles being lit, then you have the exfoliation, when things are scrubbed away, and then you have replenishing and conditioning, revitalising - and finally the massage. That is the same thing we do every Sunday: we welcome and ‘prepare’; we ‘exfoliate’ by confession and absolution; we ‘replenish’ with hear scripture; we ‘revitalise’ through prayer and the final blessing is the ‘massage’.
So the five stages of liturgy I’ve taken a turned into a Spa treatment.
Ben: How would people try this themselves?
Chris: First of all, come and experience one with us or anybody that is doing it now - people have taken it away and are doing it brilliantly. So come and experience one with us or somebody that is doing it. Secondly, if you’ve got a phone - an android or iPhone – just download a 5 song playlist from whatever genre you feel appropriate and develop a Spa church room. As I’ve said, I’ve got a variety of playlists, so we have a variety of Spa church rooms. Once you’ve got your playlists you’ve then got different rooms for each. The liturgy is the same, you say the same things but each of the experiences is different depending on how your playlist sets the scene and the tone.
Ben: Have you ever seen it as a doorway to an experience with God? Is it often Christians that do it?
Chris: I’ve seen it help people become more aware of themselves and how by getting rid of the ‘stuff’ that crams our lives, we create more space for God through Jesus. So I think it can help people experience God, whether they are Christians or not. We’ve had people crying afterwards, elated, relaxed, emotionally moved - it is always a very sensory experience and it affects people differently. Try it and see. It’s hard to find people who don’t like Spa treatments, so why not Spa Church? Try it - you’ll be surprised how people have a spiritual experience as a result.